Taking Care of a Sick Parent

Written by Nancy Altilia

Friday, July 6th, 2018

My parents grew up during the Depression — the “Dirty Thirties." As with most people of the era, it left an indelible mark on them. They never lived beyond their means and built a good nest egg for their retirement.

With everything seemingly under control, my siblings and I didn't really anticipate the kinds of challenges we'd face when it became our turn to help. In hindsight, a bit of planning would have kept the worries to a minimum.

Mom was the family bookkeeper, but the gaps in her memory were growing by the day. She was losing track of accounts and policies, yet she continued with the banking, moving money around purchasing investments, creating a bit of havoc. Dad's health was poor for several years before he passed away, and mom was slipping into the fog of dementia.

Making preparations

There are a lot of things to put in place when you want to assist your parents. Most importantly, they should make most of the decisions themselves while they're still capable. Even with Powers of Attorney, it can be difficult to get things done on their behalf. Financial and governmental institutions have challenging barriers in place to safeguard the elderly from fraud, which is a good thing. But simply redirecting their mail or changing their address with government agencies takes time (years, even) and tons of paperwork. I wish someone had warned us!

Moving elderly parents out of their home could take years of preparation. Early and frequent discussions about moving or a short stay at a home to acclimatize might help. Introducing in-home care may need to be done gradually and gently. (Imagine having complete strangers coming into your home.) Lots of people avoid the discussion, but if your parent's capacity to make decisions diminishes, everything gets more complicated.

Planning for the worst, hoping for the best

It can be a stressful time for everyone. And, like most things in life, planning for the worst and hoping for the best is a solid strategy. Here is a list of things we wish we'd done well in advance:

Meet parents' financial planner, lawyer and doctor. My parents had used the same planner and tax adviser for their entire working lives—and both were retiring! We needed to ensure the successful transfer of files, accounts and health records to new professionals.

Get some help with a financial or tax plan. It's important to know how long the retirement funds will last.

Locate wills and help parents review them to ensure they still reflect their wishes.

Document details of investments, taxes, property and vehicle ownership, pension plans and survivor benefits.

Ask parents to appoint Power(s) of Attorney for finances, care and health decisions.

Discuss roles and responsibilities and how tasks will be shared among the children. Who is first responder in an emergency? Who handles the finances? Who will help with visits to the doctor? Who will shop for the walker?

Come up with a plan for covering expenses down the road if the money runs out. My siblings and I have discussed this, and we're making contingency plans. Mom says she plans to live to 103 like her mother, so we'll need to keep an eye on things for her.

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